I love eating on the bar. There is a propensity for diners to automatically expect to be offered a table when dining at a restaurant. This means a lot of us are missing out on the experience of eating at the bar.
When I was 25 years old, I went around the world on my own for 10 weeks. Luckily, I was already a fan of eating alone, so meal time was not as confronting as it could have been. Back in Perth, it was almost as if the waitstaff serving me would be more uncomfortable about my dining habit than I was, often almost forcefully trying to provide reading material (which I declined).
When I got to New York City, I found an almost endless supply of restaurants featuring (on purpose) a bar for overflows and loners. I was in heaven. My most memorable experience was at Union Square Cafe. As well as the magnificent bar staff, I remember taking a photo half way through a three course meal, and my part of the bar was adorned with bread, wine, and cognac. Many times whilst dining at a bar back in Melbourne I think about those experiences. As you would know, the bar concept is now a feature of Melbourne dining.
Tucked away just off Nicholson Road is Neighbourhood Wine. We don’t have a booking which is dangerous on a Friday, but we have the choice of two tables, or the long stretch of empty bar space. In sync, Catherine and I choose to sit at the bar, although we were questioning the look of the actual bar stools.
It turns out, the bar stools are very comfy, and beautifully coordinate with the look and feel of this unusual space. Every nook and cranny is filled with bottles of wine, and where not dedicated to wine there is something kitsch in its place. Even the space just outside the toilet has a few dozen bottles of wine.
Wine by the glass is generally natural, with organic featuring heavily. Both of the reds that we try are excellent. The first is a Nebbiolo that has accentuated classic flavours and body that you associate with this variety. Second is a medium bodied Cinsault from the Barossa that takes a little time to open up, eventually showing good length.
The bar person pouring our wines and generally serving us knows his wines. However, he is more bartender than my New York experiences of bar servers. He is quietly spoken and lacks energy, slightly impacting our time here.
On the flip side, the food we order is outstanding. We begin with beef ragu croquettes and they are as good as they sound. Next we share the duck and brandy parfait. It comes out as two generous scoops on grilled sourdough. While the serve of this indulgent food could be smaller, I wasn’t complaining! We easily managed to finish it all off.
For our final dish we shared the pan-fried potato and ricotta gnocchi with butternut pumpkin, leeks and pine nuts. It was another good dish, and generous too. It is all too obvious when a kitchen puts out amateur gnocchi and this was certainly not the case. There is confidence in the combination with the pumpkin and pine nuts, and I would be quite happy to have this dish and a nice glass of red any day of the week.
We seriously enjoyed our first taste of what Neighbourhood Wine has to offer. With a thought provoking wine list, and plenty of great food options to match, there is more here than just a strong local. With some work on the rapport side with customers on the bar it would be a complete experience.